Saturday, October 01, 2005

READERS' FEEDBACK: First things first

WOW! You're responses have been numerous and forthright. Thanks for responding to my query about how to advise a beginning genealogists to get started. I asked if you heard of someone just starting out, WHAT would be your advice? What pitfalls would you advise them to avoid? What organization tips have helped you the most? The idea was to come up with your suggestions to get a newbie off on the right foot. It seems your responses fell basically into 4 categories:

  • cite your sources (title page & publication date)

  • interview older relatives

  • be persistent

  • develop an organization system



1. Start with what you know (yourself and
all details and paper to prove birth, marriage, graduations, degrees, honors,
etc.) Same with parents, siblings, then grandparents.

2. Keep a card file of events in chronological
order. (That is the old fashioned way. Now there are timelines you can use, but
I haven't started that yet.) Things like dates of Blizzard of 1888, Whiskey
Rebellion, Johnstown Flood, Great Chicago Fire have affected my ancestors and I
refer to them often.

3. Do one family thoroughly before going off into
another branch of the family.

4. In-laws, step parents or step cousins may add a
lot more than you'd imagine to your knowledge.

5. Have fun. Take a break often while working with
microfilm, online researching, so you don't get genealogy hump on your back!



[a MaceYugoSerBulgariGreekadonian-American]


I don't know why I'm responding to your request since,
[...] I consider myself a beginner, despite sporadic digging since 1989. :-D
Life, little time, and resources, and not getting a computer until 1999 slowed
me down. Now, on my 3 year old Blog, I have an archive of entries related to my
genealogy interests. I've even written genealogy poetry!

While I did solve a family mystery, on my own, a
few years ago, and have notions about solving another, it was thanks to the help
of others met through Rootsweb & Ancestry, that I have new info that adds more
mysteries for me to solve before I can proceed beyond 1900.

My advice to newbies, like myself, is to read, and
use, all the websites, books, and articles, you can to help you learn, but also
don't be afraid to DO, if you have the time, and means.

Participate in message Boards, and e-mail lists.
The rewards might surprise you.

As you learn more about your ancestors, and
discover mysteries, and supposed Brick Walls, don't give up. Study, and think
about, all you know, ask questions, be persistent, and you will be rewarded.



I think one of the most important things that one should pay attention to and
especially in the beginning of research is to organize and to keep track of
where you found the information. I did not do this and I regret it now as I
found I duplicated searches and wasted time.

Now, I file by name of the oldest member of the
family and have individual folders of each child within. I found that if I put
all the information in a binder that it works for me. No holes in the documents
as they have been put in an acid free protector sheet. I only wound up with
three binders. This family is very elusive, but I did get back as far as 1880
with the oldest member. There were 8 children from this individual. Their
individual descendants have been put in the binder with them and in descending
order. I have brought the descendants up to date, well, at least the information
that I could find.

What I am saying here is that if one can get back
further, then there will probably be more binders.

-- One binder is the actual information that I may
publish one day (charts, certificates, etc.) This changes constantly with new

-- One binder was for actual documents (census
records, and interesting bits of information of the family, such as other
members recollections). This one will gathers much "personal" news of the
family...It also helps with their history that I hope to publish along with the
charts, pictures, etc.

-- The third is a listing of possible searches and
history of the area they lived in: Counties, State, maps, etc.

I find that this arrangement is very portable and
travels well. I generally, only travel with binders one and two. This way, I do
not have to wonder if I had certain documentation back home and repeat
something. I'm sure there must be better ways and I still have a problem with
recording where I found something, but I am getting better all the time. Hope
this helps. Dee


From: Vernia Brooks

-- First I would tell them to talk to any
older living relatives, ask about memories, facts i.e., what were grandparents
names, grandmothers maiden name, where did your family come from, when did they
come to this country? Ask if they have any pictures, I have one picture that I
took from another picture framed and hanging on the wall, but it was my only
opportunity to have a picture of my great grandfather. I advise anyone over 50
to write or tape their own life story.

-- Second to write down any family stories,
remembering that there is usually some fact and some fiction worked in over the
years. For instance I have always heard that there is Indian ancestry in both my
parents but after 25 years of researching I have yet to find any documentation
anywhere. Also keep in mind that genealogy information in print or online is not
necessarily true, in more than one case I can find proof of 2 sets of parents,
sometimes genealogists jump at conclusions and print the information. Family
stories are very interesting and should always be recorded.

-- Third, keep a genealogy research calendar,
especially in the early years.


From: Janet

I would be sure that they began with themselves to climb the family tree. I
visited a friend who recently became excited about a possible Cherokee Indian
ancestor and started a Heritage album with her at the beginning and planned to
work down from her. She had several living ancestors in TN where she lived. I
told her I would stop everything and go visit the living relatives. We got a
small tape recorder and headed off a for a days journey to interview her uncle.
Then we organized the material she already had and input it into the computer. I
helped her subscribe to DearMYRTLE and Eastman's newsletter. When I left she was
well on her way. It is soooo rewarding to help a beginner begin!! Janet Sarasota


From: David and Teresa Williams

-- Document the source for each bit of information you receive. Do not enter any
information into a genealogy program without linking it to a source.
Unfortunately, I didn't think linking information to a source was very important
years ago in my first (DOS) computer program. Now, I'm in the process of
reviewing every piece of paper stuffed in my file cabinet and every file on my
pc. Then I will tag each bit of information to a source in Legacy <>

-- Second tip - Occasionally review all old papers,
files and books. The small thing you may have not recognized as important 5 or
10 years ago may be just the information you need to knock down today's brick



Don't wait, set up a time and ask the older generation of the family about their
memories of the family. Don't ask for just the dry information. Ask who their
favorite relative was and why. Did you ever have a pet? What was it and it's
name. Where did they go to school? Who was their best friend? etc.... If it
isn't all dry information of names, dates and places it keeps them interested in
talking to you. If they are hard to get started, take some pictures and ask them
about the people and what was happening. The oldest could be the first to go,
but also remember the younger generation. I love looking over what my
great-nieces have said and enjoy remembering their past joys and interests. The
current events will be the history our descendants will be searching for.


From: Sharon Howell

1. Document your sources. If you can't remember how to write a bibliography,
write down EXACTLY where you found the information. Somebody will be sure to ask
you where you found that information, and you need to be able to tell them.

2. To start with, keep all things on one family
name in that family's folder. If you find information on more than one surname
in a given book/folder/whatever, copy the information enough times to put it in
each name's folder.

3. As you find out more information on an
individual, create a separate folder for that person. If a woman married only
once, her information can be in her husband's folder; if not, give her a folder
of her own.

4. Keep folders in one alphabetical order. If you
try to divide them according to which side of the family they are on, you'll end
up needing an index to where a person is. Use colored folders if you want to
keep the family lines separate -- maybe one color for each grandparent and their
ancestors and relatives.

5. Folders can be kept for locations, too. Put them
in a separate alphabetical order, by state then by county. Be sure to copy the
information for each family name folder, too.

6. The objective is to be able to put your hands on
any piece of information you need within only a few minutes. This is an GOAL, no
one has their filing up to date. I just moved with about 4" of information in
one room and 5" in another room to be filed. I think now both bags of
information are in the same room as the file cabinet.



Write it down! No matter if you think it's a story or a fact you'll never
forget. You need to write it down! D March from Wisconsin


From: Richard Herd

Whatever the fact/detail, source it. No matter how small and insignificant it
seems, source it. I started like everyone else. Just the immediate family.
Surely I'll remember where all of this comes from. Then the extended family. I
just know that I can remember where I got that information. Uncle so and so or
Aunt whomever. 6,100 people later in my database and you guess it: "unsourced"
facts, people and places.

So, if I had one bit of wisdom…please source your


From: Lou Henkel

Two items come immediately to mind:

1. Verify ALL that you find on the internet. Do not
believe all that you find but consider it a lead.

2. Note the source of every piece of information in
the event you need to check again or pass it on to others.



I would advise a beginner go back and review all their documents and
research materials frequently. Every time we find something new, it sheds new
light on our existing papers.

I make a copy of the front of a book or magazine if
I am at a library and have found information. I also make a copy of ISBN number,
author, publication date, etc. so if I need more information I can find the
source again.

Keep a research log. A beginner tends to look at
the same records over and over because their research is scattered. Keep the
research log by surnames.

Keep your research organized in a manner that
anyone could pick up where you left off, if needed. Your organizational system
won't work if it doesn't work for you. I have had to tweak mine several times,
so that is normal. It doesn't matter as long as there is some order and I
repeat...anyone can pick it up and it makes sense.

Learn how to post queries on the mail lists.
Capitalize surnames, change the heading bar to pertain to YOUR query and never
write..."Looking for grandma." Remember, many of us subscribe to dozens of mail
lists. Your post could be deleted by a cousin that doesn't read those vague
subject headings.

ALWAYS be aware of those collateral lines.
Sometimes we find our direct lines through finding the collateral line first. So
go ahead and keep track of those cousins, aunts & uncles. That is how I broke
through a brick wall.




-- Start with yourself and work back, one generation at a time.

-- Make sure that you have solid evidence of a
family connection from one generation to the next before you follow an ancestral
line back to earlier generations. Work from the present to the past, and from
the known to the unknown.

-- Spelling doesn’t count. Look for every possible
variation you can think of.

-- In earlier times spelling wasn’t standardized.
Whoever wrote a record may not have known the correct way to spell your
ancestor’s name.

-- Document the source of every piece of
information you find. You need to be able to go back to the same source later,
if necessary, or tell other researchers where to find the information. In case
of conflicting data, you will be able to evaluate the sources and decide which
is more likely to be accurate.

For documents: Issuing organization (for example,
“Macomb County, Michigan” or “Littleton 1st Ward, Littleton, Colorado Stake”);
date document was prepared; where the document was found (“Family History
Library film # 122334” or “Susan Jones’s Book of Remembrance” or “Macomb County
Courthouse, Mt. Clemens, Michigan”) and the date you obtained the information.

For books: Author, title, publisher, date of
publication or copyright date, page number, where the document was found, call
number (“Denver Public Library, 979.5/E22” or “Family History Library film #
123345”), and the date you obtained the information.

For information from individuals: Name, address and
relationship of the person who gave you the information; when and where they
spoke to you. (“Interview with my grandmother, Margaret Smith, 24 June 1965, at
her home in Denver, Colorado” or “Letter from James Davidson, son of John and
May Davidson, 1234 Main St., Denver, Colorado, received 3 Apr 2003”)

-- Just because you got it from a book (the
internet, Aunt Susie, Ancestral File, etc., etc.) doesn’t mean it’s true. No
record, person, or document is infallible, and some are less reliable than
others. The rule of thumb is: the closer in time to the event that a record was
made, the more likely it is to be correct. Use each source as a hint to where
other documents might be found. Always try to find as many sources as possible
to confirm information, and evaluate each source. k: “Who wrote this, and how
likely was he to have direct knowledge of this event?”

-- Organize and file new information as soon as you
find it. Enter data and sources into Personal Ancestral File 5 or other software
program. Develop a filing system for copies of documents, letters and other
paper records.

-- Use standard size paper and forms for all your
notes. Notes on scraps of paper and odd size pages lead to chaotic files and
lost information.

-- Put your name and phone number on every folder
or notebook that you take away from home to do research. You’d be surprised at
the valuable records people leave behind at the Family History Center!


From: Ann Ellen Barr

FIRST: Keep a RESEARCH LOG. Yes, I capitalized this because I didn't. I didn't
realize how important it is to know what you searched and what you found -- and
what you did not find. That would be my first message to anyone searching
because it shows you the path you've taken thus far.


From: John Buck, Jr.

Document Everything! Even though you "think" you'll remember where the data came
from, think in terms of a person looking at your data a hundred years from now.
They will wonder where you found that little piece of information.

Keep track of the URLs for data you find on the
Internet, along with a written description of where the data was found.

Keep track of the library where you find the book
that holds the information you use....

Pick a data format for such things as PLACES -- and
stick to it. For example: when writing down a PLACE, do = you want to write:
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois; or Chicago, Illinois; or Chicago, Cook Co.,
Illinois; or Chicago, Cook County, Ill.; or Chicago, Cook Co., Ill.; or some
other variation. I, personally, think that full spelling of all of the words is
the best route to take, abbreviations are changeable and not constant from year
to year, there is less room for error if the full word is used. Though, in my
genealogy program, The Master Genealogist, I do not write the word COUNTY; but
simply the name of the county: Chicago, Cook, Illinois.

Start out with a good genealogy program. There are
a couple of sites which compare the various programs available, see which one
suits your needs. Don't be afraid of getting a complicated program, like TMG <>,
if you HAVE to learn something, it may just as well be the best you can find.
What looks complicated today, will be simpler the longer you use it.

Start with yourself, and your immediate family,
write down everything you know about birth, marriage, death and burial dates and
locations. Then start filling in the blanks for things that aren't complete
(such as adding the county for the city and state that you've recorded.) Find
your relatives in as many census records as possible. Obtain birth, marriage and
death certificates when possible. And TALK to your living relatives! A lot of
data goes by the way side when they are gone. Take out those old family photos
and show them to your grandmother (perhaps tape recording the session as well)
and have her describe the situation in the photo to you - who the people are,
where and when it was taken, stuff like that.

I had a grandaunt Myrt who just LOVED to talk. I am
only sorry now that I didn't get her on tape.... She really knew a lot about the
family, but by the time I started to collect data she was no longer with us.
It's a loss I can never fully recover from.

Those are just my thoughts at the moment. I'm sure
they will be duplicated, many times over, by your other readers. Oh, one other
thing. Tell them to start YOUNG preferably while they are still in the fifth or
sixth grade! And, document EVERYTHING ....... <g>


From: Mary MacKenzie

Starting out my biggest mistake was in not fully and completely documenting my
sources. I have had to go back and retrace so much of my research because it
just lacked source documentation. I was so excited in the beginning that I
accepted any and all information, but without the sources, I could not later
check the information or evaluate it's reliability.


From: Pearl sauer

My advice to new genealogist would be to
tell them that in French Canada women keep their maiden names. [...] it helps
alot because if you are looking for a female death you would most likely look
for her married named. But In French Canada she is buried by her maiden name.


From: Jean Quiggle

My recommendation for a beginning genealogist is one that I'm sure we all have
heard and regret not having done - talk to everyone left alive in your family,
from siblings and first cousins to very extended family. Great gramma's cousin
may be a treasure trove of information and personal stories not known to your
mom or gramma. Even the most insignificant tidbit of information may be the
piece that leads to the major breakthrough or fleshes out the most interesting
and fascinating story you may have heard as a child growing up. When my family
visited our grandparents and aunts and uncles and their families in another
state on our family vacations, my sister and I spent time with different
families. As a result, we heard different stories about our family or the same
stories with different details or from different perspectives. Now as adults,
when we share these stories, we compare and contrast details and have a fuller
understanding of our family and their times and travails.

As for organizational recommendations, the two best
recommendations that I have used are to use a three ringed binder and divide the
family binder into generations. Although I seem to quickly outgrow them, I know
where to find information, documentation, and leads to share with others.

Another helpful recommendation has been to print
and save in a binder every email from family members (I'm not talking about the
jokes and the funnies, although these can be a great window into the personality
and interests of the people and their times at a later date). These emails
contain all kinds of family news and tidbits which though the stuff of every day
life right now, our children and grandchildren will use to learn about us, our
life, our thoughts, and our times.


From: Dolly Ziegler

To a beginning genealogist -- welcome!
First thing, fill out an ancestor chart -- starting with yourself -- what you
know, what you can estimate. In pencil! I can give you better advice if I can
look at this chart, instead of your telling me "off the top of your head."

Second, go online to the U.S. censuses, starting
1930 and working backward till you don't have enough information to continue.

Third, go online to the big free databases and look
for your known ancestors. At
, left column, click
WorldConnect. (RootsWeb also has terrific how-to online classes, also free --
about 30 of them.) Your second stop might be
, click search.

Next, a break for a short lecture, "Don't believe
everything you find on the internet."

Then, go home and start asking your family for
information and "do you have any old photos?"

As for organization -- start with a "working
notebook" and a lined notepad. Binder dividers are okay to start -- soon you'll
need a few manila file folders with surnames on the tabs.

Oh -- very important -- write your name and contact
information (email address or phone) inside or on the cover of EVERY notebook
and folder you might take to a library ... or a copy shop.



Maps! I remember being told that maps where
so important, but I thought it was such crazy advise. I avoided it for years.
What a big mistake. Using maps made it so much easier and solved a lot of



Write down all sources that you look at and talk to
all your family [members] before it is too late.



My favorites suggestions are to start
small. Start with yourself and work back, Get all the information on your
parents you can and then move back.

Keep everything and document, document, document.

You can never have enough information on a person.
Take photos of the person, their gravestone, their home, talk to everyone.

But most of all start binders for your different
families NOW and add to them as you go. I have two separate binders for every
major family group. One very large binder for their collection of information
like e-mail queries, research at the library, etc., the other binder is smaller
and has the important documents, that way you have them at your finger tips
whenever you need them. I keep a log in the front of the small binder so I know
what I have and can add to whenever I receive documents.

I work in a retired bedroom, it used to be our
daughter's room, and is now the computer, genealogy room. I am surrounded by
bookcases with books that I have collected, photos, etc., and on the walls are
the two family trees in which I have entered family members in pencil so I can
add and change things as they become firm.

And another very important tip, SHARE SHARE


From: Tim Stamps

- Make documenting your sources the #1

- Don't assume that collecting posted trees is all
there is to genealogy, and don't assume it's all correct. Collecting someone
else's research is not itself "research", but is a good place to start with.
Many "facts" in trees and files found on the internet, and even in printed
books, are incorrect and need further research.

- Start by interviewing your oldest living
relatives. Then proceed to other sources like the census. Realize that the
census is only a tool containing clues, and even a lot of census data is
incorrect. Same with birth, death, and marriage certificates. Collect all you
can, and compare the data from all the different sources to determine what is
most likely the truth for each piece of information.


From: Alice Sanders

The first research I would suggest, beyond talking to relatives, would be to
start with census records. They are so available. A success finding something
really gives a boost to the enthusiasm for genealogy.


From: Patti Basarich

One thing I would recommend it to
concentrate on one person at a time, not to get to many going at once. It can
cause alot of frustrations and confusion. I know from experience. Was so excited
on finding ancestors that information was getting mixed up.



First I would suggest a good free Genealogy
program such as Personal Ancestry File or Legacy so they can start recording
info as they get it and know how to enter the info. I would suggest they start
with themselves and add their family as they know it, parents, siblings,
children, etc. Next I would suggest using a program like or for free searches. I would suggest they keep and record all their
sources. If they can afford a fee service, I would suggest or some
equal service.

Typing their surname in a good search engine such
as Google will produce lots of hits to check out. Of course using the message
board in Rootsweb may show other persons researching the same surname and then
they can compare notes. And of course join a local genealogy society so they can
find support and assistance from others.



What more can I say, except: HAVE FUN DOING

PS - THANKS for writing this column for me. I had
to pick & choose, and some of your replies have not been included. Next time
I'll have to limit the responses to the first 20 or so.

Happy family tree climbing!

Myrt :)


6023 26th Street West PMB 352

Bradenton, FL 34207

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